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Field Experience Checklist

As part of their reflection, the Winter Meeting participants created a master list of steps and considerations for creating useful and exciting field experiences. The following synthesizes the participants' lists and shows some of the connections with the SCIMAST-sponsored work.


Before going into the field, students need to understand the concepts underlying the experience. The site should be chosen to help students realize the relevance of their class work to field work. The teacher will pay close attention to the many details that ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment. Students also need an age-appropriate grounding in the topic and understanding of the objectives of the experience.

Issues around curriculum and instruction

  • The goals of the field experience are clearly articulated.

  • Ascertain the prior understandings of the students.

  • Students understand the materials and instruments that will be used in the field. Let them "play" with the items to learn how to use them before they need to take important field readings.

  • Students understand what is expected of them and how their learning in the field will be evaluated in the classroom. To accomplish this goal, students may need to see the actual assessment task and rubrics that will be used during or at the end of the project.

  • If a field journal is required, students need to know what expectations the teacher has for it and how it fits into their evaluation.
Other Details of Planning
  • Decide how students should work--individually, in self-selected groups, in assigned groups. Students working in groups will benefit if different learning and working styles are found in each group.

  • Logistics must be clear: transportation, food, water, and safety concerns should be anticipated and answered. How many adults and drivers will be needed?

  • What kinds of permissions, parental and administrative, are needed?

  • Guides or docents at the site need to understand not only the subject matter but also how children learn. Examples of class work by the students will help them understand the level of the class.

  • Safety requirements of the site have to be clearly explained.

  • Do some students have special learning needs? Will some require extra help in the field? Are special education students included in this trip? Will other classes be invited to go along?

SCIMAST field experience. Much of what would have happened earlier in class had to occur on the first day of the Port Aransas meeting: some basic understandings of the area and the types of observations to be expected were established. Since the participants were all knowledgeable teachers and principals, conceptual information could be presented briefly. They did need to learn how to use some of the instruments--field scopes, the PVC surveying equipment. SCIMAST staff had assumed that participants would know how to use compasses, but some pointed out to us that they could have benefited from time playing with the instruments to refamiliarize themselves.

The SCIMAST staff made a special point of making sure the objectives of the meeting and the means of assessing learning were clearly articulated for all participants. The staff also devoted time to ensuring the work groups came together and split in such ways that each participant had time to be exposed to many different viewpoints and could check back with a stable group to share new learning.

At the Site

Picture of people measuring things on the beach

Once the class is at the site, other considerations come into play, but the teacher remains focused on ensuring that the students have the time and access to increase their understanding of the topic. Connections between curriculum and field observations will be strengthened in the field.

  • All students have the opportunity to make meaningful observations.

  • Record data in many ways--written notes and, where possible, tape recorder, videos, still photography, and collected artifacts and specimens.

  • Stick to a pre-arranged schedule as much as possible but remain adaptable and ready for the serendipitous.

  • Make sure equipment and materials are available, useful, and understandable.

  • Provide opportunities for hands-on, active, and open-ended learning.

  • Make sure knowledgeable people and other sources are accessible to the students.

  • Do not be afraid to give occasional small lectures if they will advance student learning.

  • Leave time for questioning and exploring.

  • Make sure objectives have been addressed.

SCIMAST field experience. The work in the bay and on the beaches was hands-on with the objective of stimulating observations and reflection. Participants handled creatures and materials pulled up from the bottom of the ocean and walked the shoreline noting what had been left there and reflecting on the meaning of this material for the ecosystem.

The knowledgeable staff of the Marine Institute was always available to the Winter Meeting participants. Frequently, these marine scientists stopped exploring to explain a fine point to the whole group. SCIMAST staff recorded the experience with still photos, video camera, and written notes. Participants took written notes and were encouraged to use any other methods they could. Many of them carefully collected specimens to take back to their classes.

Back in the Classroom

Picture of a classroom where teachers and students are discussing a project

Returning to school should resemble a field scientist's return to the laboratory. The project is not over; it has merely entered a new phase--one that involves experimenting, reflection, and discussion. While assessing may have been ongoing in the field, more formal assessments occur in the classroom.

  • Check to see if objectives were addressed.

  • Begin student analysis and interpretation of the data.

  • Some general discussion will help the entire class learn from others' experiences and observations.

  • Student learning should be allowed to branch off into other relevant areas.

  • Incorporate field experience into subsequent curriculum and apply it to other subjects and situations.

  • Make sure the rest of the school knows about the field experience and offer to work with other teachers.

  • Arrange for assessment, evaluation, and closure.

  • Show relation of this experience to future class work.

  • Ask students to suggest improve-ments for next year's field work.

  • Reflect on your ongoing assessment of the whole experience. How can you make the experience better next time?

  • Set aside time for students to write thank-you notes to parents who drove or accompanied the class, guides, docents, and any other people involved with the field trip.

SCIMAST field experience. The participants could not return to the classroom as a group, but they did analyze and interpret their observations both in the field and later in work groups. Reflection and discussion were scheduled into the agenda and the learning was applied in the simulated town meeting. The participants discussed the ways their learning would affect their teaching and the conduct of their classrooms, how professional development would be affected by this experience, and how they could share what they had experienced with teachers in their home sites.

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